London: There's only one thing that could make the golfing landscape any brighter right now and that is for Tiger Woods to stride imperiously into contention at the Bridgestone Invitational at storied Firestone this week.
Yes, we were all scandalised when he let his sport down along with his trousers a couple of years ago. And what is he thinking in having his lifelong friend Bryon Bell as his caddie this week?
This is the man who organised some of his more sordid social activities. Is Bell planning to imitate the behaviour of a golfing icon of the Sixties, who used to walk along the galleries handing out his hotel phone number to all the pretty women?
Enough of the cheap jokes. What we need is for a change of narrative. We're bored with Tiger the philanderer, Tiger the ordinary mortal, Tiger the injured golfer. We need Tiger the comeback — the man who won one Bridgestone tournament by chasing down Padraig Harrington at his best; who won another in the dark, for heaven's sake.
A miracle too much to hope for? Sadly, the evidence points that way.
Apparently, he started practising only last Thursday after his 11-week break, and even then his doctor put a limit on the amount of balls he was able to hit. That doesn't augur well for the infirm chasing down the in-form, does it?
Tiger's proudest boast was that he entered tournaments only when he was convinced he was going to win. Right now, it's hard to be convinced he will last 72 holes.
This week and next week's US PGA Championship are two huge weeks for Woods, therefore.
Yes, there's bound to be competitive rust and a bit of stiffness in that ailing knee joint and achilles tendon, but let's hope, too, for a man who looks in decent physical shape and authentic moments illustrating the greatness within.
Don't we all want to see Tiger trying to reclaim his throne, with Rory McIlroy standing in his way? Or have I been watching too many Rocky films?
Meanwhile, Woods played an 18-hole practice round on Monday at the site of next week's PGA Championship and pronounced the 7,467-yard Atlanta Athletic Club layout ready for the year's last major event.
"I had a blast out there on a wonderful golf course," Woods said in a posting on his website. "It should be a great test for a major championship."
Woods has not played competitively since going nine holes at The Players Championship in May and reaggravating left knee ligament and left Achilles tendon strains that he suffered while playing in the Masters last April.
Doctors recently cleared Woods to return to practice and his preparations have included work with swing coach Sean Foley. Woods missed the US and British Opens while waiting for his body to heal.
Speed of greens
Four-time PGA Championship winner Woods was joined by business associate Rob McNamara in Atlanta in a golf cart. They toured the course in 2 1/2 hours, testing the speed of the greens and seeing first-hand the rough's thickness.
Woods confirmed reports Bell will replace fired Steve Williams as his caddie at the PGA and this week's World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.
Bell, a friend of Woods since childhood, is president of Tiger Woods Design and has served as bagman for Woods four times in PGA events. "Tiger asked me to work with him and I'm glad to do it," Bell said. "Although I have a busy schedule with Tiger Woods Design, it's fun to come out here again.
"We've had success on the course together before. I hope I'm a good asset for him while he searches for a permanent caddie and I'm looking forward to Firestone."
Woods, who flew to Akron after his Atlanta practice round, has won seven times at Firestone Country Club.
"I'm very excited about competing," Woods said. "Firestone is a wonderful venue and I'm looking forward to getting back out there with the guys."
Woods also announced on Monday he was playing the the Australian Open next November at Sydney, an event he last took part in 15 years ago.
— With inputs agenices